The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2013

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Page 24 of 152

Labels Matter . . . BUT LET THE WHISKEY SPEAK W hen tasting new American whiskies, I study the label as if it contains the map to hidden treasure. Labels give hints about the whiskey and can help navigate liquor catalogues. The U.S. Alcohol Trade & Tax Bureau (TTB) regulates alcohol labels and allows many fanciful terms. For example, the TTB does not actually have a class designation for "moonshine," "small batch" or "single barrel." The government has allowed these terms because they describe the product. But unlike "straight bourbon" or "rye whiskey," the TTB has no official definition for these terms. With that said, the TTB approves every inch of the label and distillers are not going to lie about a single barrel or small batch product. Nonetheless, studying a label is extremely important for you as a buyer and helps you know exactly what's inside the bottle. For single barrels, most brands will place the barrel number on the bottle. When sampling, I'll try to taste three different barrels and pick one. In a recent tasting of Henry McKenna 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, I found barrel No. 972 (barreled on March 26, 2003) to out-nose, out-taste and generally overpower the other two barrels. It's a rustic, throwback style of bourbon with campfire smoke and caramel sweetness. I love this Henry McKenna single barrel neat, but the other two needed water to open up. Henry McKenna is a great value already, but barrel No. 972 is an exceptional find. As Jim Beam's Fred Noe once told me: "People love single barrels because each one is different." Labels sometimes tell you flat-out about the mashbill, while sometimes they'll only give you hints. The Old Weller Antique Original 107 Brand states on the label that it's "The Original Wheated Bourbon." That means wheat is the mashbill's secondary grain vs. the more common rye. Just as rye bread tastes different from wheat bread, a wheated bourbon—aka "wheater"—sure tastes sweeter, with more pronounced vanilla notes than the spicier rye bourbons. Occasionally, I'll find a hidden nugget on a label. On the bottle of Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey, from Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper, VA, I found "naturally flavored and colored with toasted applewood and oakwood." Since most American whiskies I taste don't include the word "flavoring" and are not "colored," this verbiage surprised me and led me to believe it would taste like a flavored whiskey product. The taste, however, shows that the flavoring and coloring comes from the applewood and oakwood, not some flavor extract. It's a fruity, lighter whiskey with evidence of its distiller-grown, farmraised corn. So, while labels are important, don't believe everything you read. Taste for yourself. 24  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2013 TP1113_001-33.indd 24 10/24/13 8:47 AM

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